In the world of cybersecurity, when was the last time security teams truly had it "easy"?  Certainly not in recent memory. Each year has marked the emergence of novel cyberattacks, as threat actors are continually improving their Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures making it clear that 2024 will follow suit. The relentless pace and expanding scale of threats are set to amplify the vulnerabilities faced by enterprises, pressuring their existing defenses. As cyber adversaries show no intention of easing their efforts, neither can security teams relent in their mission to safeguard networks, systems, applications, and invaluable data.

But 2023 isn't just repeating past patterns. The adoption of novel technologies brings forth its own set of vulnerabilities, while persistent challenges continue to feature on the list of top concerns. These are the top challenges we're calling the "Critical Eleven".

1. Limited Understanding of Security Posture

Understanding security posture forms the foundation of a robust cybersecurity strategy. The dynamic nature of networks, devices, and applications perpetually exposes vulnerabilities.  However, businesses often struggle to accurately assess their vulnerabilities, leaving them susceptible to attacks. To confront this challenge, continuous monitoring is indispensable. A comprehensive risk assessment must be conducted to identify weak points and formulate effective remediation strategies. By gaining a clear overview of the vulnerabilities, organizations can prioritize critical steps to gauge the security posture.

2. Prioritization of Remediation Tasks

A long list of potential remediation tasks can overwhelm cybersecurity teams. Prioritization is vital, focusing resources on addressing critical vulnerabilities that pose the most significant risks. Identifying mission-critical assets and addressing their vulnerabilities first is crucial to minimizing potential damage.

3. Detection and Response delay

The delay in detecting and containing data breaches can significantly exacerbate their impact. IBM's 2022 data security report reported that it took an average of 277 days – roughly 9 months – for businesses to identify and report a data breach, allowing adversaries ample time to navigate systems. Investing in real-time threat monitoring and routine assessments can help identify breaches sooner, minimizing potential harm.

4. Emergency Patching for Critical Systems

Critical systems such as those in critical information infrastructure are increasingly becoming targets of cyberattacks. Emergency patching for these critical systems can be challenging because they just cannot be turned off as downtime is not feasible.

While the fixes are available, businesses don’t apply them as they use manual processes and can't prioritize what needs to be patched first. In fact, 74% of companies say they simply can't patch fast enough because the average time to patch is 102 days according to Ponemon. This can lead to long delays in applying patches, which can make systems vulnerable to attack.

To avoid these problems, businesses should implement a timely patching strategy for critical systems. This strategy should include:

  • Identifying the most critical systems and prioritizing them for patching.
  • Using automated tools to apply patches quickly and efficiently.
  • Have a plan for emergency patching.

5. Alert Fatigue and False Positives

Cybersecurity professionals often face an overwhelming number of alerts, many of which turn out to be false positives. This "alert fatigue" hampers effective threat response. Implementing advanced threat detection algorithms with contextual analysis can help filter out false positives and prioritize genuine threats, while also employing automated response actions for low-level alerts can streamline the workflow and alleviate the cognitive load on analysts.

6. Storage Reconnaissance

Businesses rely heavily on cloud storage to house vast amounts of data, often assuming it's inherently secure. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Cybercriminals actively seek out vulnerable cloud interfaces, exploiting weak security to gain unauthorized access and misuse the data stored within them. A famous incident from 2017 involved the breach of an unprotected S3 cloud bucket containing classified National Security Agency data, showcasing the serious repercussions of inadequate cloud protection. Organizations need to realize that storing sensitive data in the cloud could pose risks if appropriate measures are not implemented.

Storage Reconnaissance Solutions

  • Encryption
  • Strong passwords
  • Information choices
  • Timely Updates

7. BYOD Policy Implications

While remote work and BYOD policies enhance flexibility and productivity, they also introduce potential security risks as employees access the organization's network and data from their personal devices. To address this challenge, businesses need to extend security policies to endpoint devices, ensuring compliance and data protection.

8. Privileged Access Management

Granting privileged access to employees opens doors to potential security breaches. A study by Centrify reveals that 74% of organizations that experienced a cyber breach involved access to a privileged account. A policy of 'least privilege' emerges as a potential solution, controlling and managing access to sensitive systems to minimize security risks.

9. Effective Incident Response

Handling a cybersecurity incident is crucial, yet many organizations lack a solid plan. Over 77% of businesses lack consistent cybersecurity incident response plans, leaving them ill-equipped to face cyber threats [IBM]. It's imperative to establish clear steps for managing a cyber incident, whether it occurs during regular work hours or at night. A well-defined incident response policy not only eases the pressure in the event of a breach but also ensures a swift and effective response.

10. Outdated Defenses for Agile Cyber Threats

The cyber threats of today are agile, stealthy, and adept at evading traditional signature-based defenses. Outdated technologies and processes are no match for these threats, which can remain undetected for several months. This critical concern requires immediate attention as automated attacks outpacing human-based defense strategies. This sentiment is validated by the fact that, on average, businesses take nearly 6 months to detect a data breach. Organizations must transition from reactive to proactive approaches, leveraging automation and advanced analytics to tackle evolving threats head-on.

11. Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage

The scarcity of skilled cybersecurity professionals presents a pressing challenge. Despite a record high of 4.7 million in the global cybersecurity workforce, a shortage of over 3.4 million experts remains, attributed to stringent job prerequisites and high job stress. To tackle this, organizations can consider managed security service providers (MSSPs) to outsource cybersecurity operations, reducing the strain on internal teams. Additionally, re-evaluating hiring criteria to prioritize practical skills and continuous learning could attract a more diverse pool of candidates, helping address the shortage effectively.

What NEXT?

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, where threats continually mutate and adapt, businesses can no longer afford to underestimate the significance of a robust cybersecurity strategy. The array of challenges outlined above, from a limited understanding of security posture to the shortage of skilled professionals, underscores the urgency of a comprehensive approach. As the digital realm intertwines with the core of every operation, the potential fallout from neglecting cybersecurity could be financially and reputationally devastating. Organizations must scrutinize their network infrastructure, augment their internal team, and take advantage of managed security service providers, to navigate the critical challenges.